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Southern hospitals have thus far been able to cope with patient demand despite the nationwide nurses strike, the Southern District Health Board says.
An unknown percentage of the SDHB's staff who are New Zealand Nurses Organisation members have joined an estimated 30,000 nurses across the country in a 24-hour strike following the breakdown of talks over their collective employment agreement.
Nurses are demanding better pay rates and working conditions, and assurances staff shortages will be addressed.
Today's strike is only the second time a national nurses strike has been held - the first was 30 years ago.
Nurses, midwives and health assistants walked off the job at 7am, leaving a skeleton team on duty to handle emergencies and maintain life preserving services.
"Our hospitals are coping well so far with the impact of today's strike'' SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said.
"We have been seeing fewer than usual presentations in our emergency departments but [we] are slightly busier than expected in areas of critical care, including ICU and the High Dependency Unit (HDU) at Dunedin Hospital and critical care unit at Southland Hospital.''
Staff involved in contingency planning team had done an excellent job and the SDHB was as prepared for the strike as it could be, Mr Fleming said.
"We are staffed to safe levels and all staff who were expected to report for work did so - including two New Zealand Defence Force nurses who are working at Southland Hospital.
"We are grateful to the NZNO union representatives locally who have been very accommodating in meeting our life preserving service (LPS) staffing requests.''
A noisy picket line greeted visitors to Dunedin Hospital today, as nurses kicked off 24 hours of strike action.
NZNO local organiser Lorraine Lobb said she was pleased with the turnout, and especially pleased that many nurses had been outside Dunedin Hospital at the start of the strike to greet colleagues coming off shift.
"Everyone is disappointed that it has come to this, but there are plenty of nurses out here who want to have their say.''
A series of pickets and protest marches are planned for throughout the day.